Is Training By Heart Rate A Thing Of The Past?

Heart rate monitors were once the best tool for athletes to measure their performance. Now they've become somewhat of a relic. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

The Case For Monitoring Heart Rate

Heart Rate Monitoring Helps Keep Intensity In Check
Perhaps the most valuable effect that heart rate monitors have had on endurance sports is that they have familiarized endurance athletes with the idea that there is an appropriate intensity level for each type of workout, and exceeding that intensity level is as counterproductive as falling below it.

One of the most common errors that endurance athletes make with respect to intensity is pushing too hard in workouts that are intended to be easy or moderate. The use of target heart rate zones is a very effective way to prevent athletes from getting carried away with themselves.

Heart Rate-Power And Heart Rate-Pace Relationships Provide Very Useful Information
While heart rate monitoring on its own is admittedly of little value to the endurance athlete, simultaneous monitoring of heart rate and pace in running and of heart rate and power on the bike is very useful in helping the athlete track changes in fitness, fatigue and performance.

For example, as you gain fitness, your heart rate at any given power output or pace should gradually decrease, and your power output or pace at any given heart rate should gradually improve. Tracking both power output or pace and heart rate allows you to follow these trends as they unfold.

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Another useful way to use these relationships is to track heart rate decoupling in long endurance workouts. When such workouts are performed at a steady intensity, your heart rate will hold steady for a while and then begin to increase as you fatigue. The better your endurance, the longer you can go before heart rate decoupling occurs.

Specific models of run speed and distance devices with integrated heart rate monitors have useful proprietary features based on heart rate-pace relationships. Polar’s RS800 speed and distance device has a feature called Running Index that scores every run you perform by quantifying your fitness level with calculations based on the relationship between your pace and heart rate. It translates roughly as an indicator of your current VO2 max and is therefore a help tool for tracking changes in your fitness.

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This article was adapted from the book, The Runner’s Edge, by Stephen McGregor, PhD, and Matt Fitzgerald.

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